Posts Tagged ‘Jewish History’
The idea that a single, spectacular finding can reverse the course of modern research and save the literal reading of the biblical text regarding the history of ancient Israel from critical scholarship is an old one. Its roots can be found in W F Albright’s assault on the Wellhausen School in the early 20th century, an assault that biased archaeological, biblical and historical research for decades. This trend—in different guises—has resurfaced sporadically in recent years, with archaeology serving as a weapon to quell progress in critical scholarship. Khirbet Qeiyafa is the latest case in this genre of craving a cataclysmic defeat of critical modern scholarship by a miraculous archaeological discovery.I Finkelstein and A Fantalkin
During recent archaeological excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a fortified city in Judah adjacent to the Valley of Elah, professor Yosef Garfinkel, the Yigal Yadin Professor of Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and colleagues, uncovered assemblages of pottery, stone and metal tools, and many art and cult objects. Three large rooms were revealed that Garfinkel says were cultic shrines corresponding in their architecture and finds to the time of King David. He adds that this discovery is extraordinary for it is the first time that shrines from the time of the first biblical kings—Saul, David and Solomon—have been uncovered, and shed light on how a cult was organized in Judah at the time of King David. These shrines pre-date the construction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem by 30 to 40 years.
The discovery is indeed extraordinary, about as extraordinary as finding the Bat Cave of Batman and Robin under the streets of New York City, which was, of course, called Gotham City in those days, as everyone knows from the popular myth! Saul, Solomon and Solomon’s famous temple are all myths with not a single piece of material evidence for any of them, and king David, the father of the mythical Solomon, has the equivocal testimony of an highly contentious piece of a broken inscription. So all three of the earliest kings of Judah are as real as king Arthur, Dr Faustus and William Tell… they are not!
The expedition to Khirbet Qeiyafa has excavated the site for six weeks each summer since 2007, with co-director Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Located approximately 30km southwest of Jerusalem in the valley of Elah, Khirbet Qeiyafa was a border city of the Kingdom of Judah opposite the Philistine city of Gath. The city, which was dated by 10 radiometric measurements (14C) done at Oxford University on burned olive pits, existed for a short period of time between ca. 1020 to 980 BCE, and was violently destroyed. The revolutionary results of five years of work are presented in a new book, Footsteps of King David in the Valley of Elah, published by Yedioth Ahronoth.
The architecture found at Khirbet Qeiyafa at this date is quite refined, and is interpreted by Garfinkel as evidence of royal activities, and therefore of state formation. An elite social level and urbanism existed in the region eleventh century Judah. Garfinckel seems convinced that it strengthens the historicity of the Jewish scriptures, and that their description of the architecture of the palace and Temple of Solomon is authentic:
This is the first time that archaeologists uncovered a fortified city in Judah from the time of King David. Even in Jerusalem we do not have a clear fortified city from his period. Thus, various suggestions that completely deny the biblical tradition regarding King David and argue that he was a mythological figure, or just a leader of a small tribe, are now shown to be wrong.
The Jewish bible relates how the people of Israel had a cult different from all other nations of the ancient Near East, being monotheistic and aniconic—free of human and animal figures—and having an aversion to pork. Garfinkel continued;
Over the years, thousands of animal bones were found, including sheep, goats and cattle, but no pigs. Now we uncovered three cultic rooms, with various cultic paraphernalia, but not even one human or animal figurine was found.
No human or animal figurines were found, suggesting the people of Khirbet Qeiyafa observed the biblical ban on graven images.
It suggests that the population of Khirbet Qeiyafa observed two biblical bans—on pork and on graven images—and thus practiced a different cult from that of the Canaanites or the Philistines.
However, the Hebrew Univerity press release is clear that no one is sure when these aniconic and monotheistic practices began, during the Israelite and Judahite monarchies (10-6th centuries BC), or only later, in the Persian or Hellenistic eras. The claim that images of humans or animals were absent in the three shrines is, on the face of it, evidence that worshipers here differed from the Canaanites and the Philistines, who made images of their gods.
The three rooms, part of larger building complexes, are supposed to have been separate shrines. In this respect they are different from Canaanite or Philistine cults, which were practiced in temples—separate buildings dedicated only to rituals. Garfinkel supposes that because the bible speaks of the portable ark being stored in private houses (2 Samuel 6) that it was worshiped in private houses. Yet there was only one such ark at a time, so it could hardly have been worshiped in three separate rooms. Indeed, three separate shrines in one larger building suggests polytheism, the different rooms being devoted to different objects of worship. Indeed cult objects found include five standing stones (Masseboth), two basalt altars, two pottery libation vessels and two portable shrines. Canaanites commonly worshiped masseboth, stones, and even the bible suggests the Judahites and Israelites did, though they were not supposed to according to Moses. It is deeply entrenched. Jews today still worship stones!
Two portable shrines or “shrine models” were found, one made of pottery, c 20cm high, and the other, 35 cm high, of stone. These are boxes shaped like miniature temples, which could be closed. The stone shrine is made of soft limestone and painted red. Its façade is decorated by two elements—seven groups of roof beams, three planks in each. This architectural element, the “triglyph”, is known in Greek classical temples, like the Parthenon in Athens. Its appearance at Khirbet Qeiyafa is the earliest known example carved in stone. The second decorative element is the recessed door. This type of door or window is known in the architecture of temples, palaces and royal graves in the ancient Near East. It was a typical symbol of divinity and royalty at the time.
Similar triglyphs and recessed doors can be found in the description of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:5;31-33) and in the description of a temple in Ezekiel 41:6. These biblical texts are replete with obscure technical terms that have lost their original meaning over the millennia.
For the first time in history we have actual objects from the time of David, which can be related to monuments described in the Bible.
Now, the stone model helps us to understand these obscure technical terms in the description of Solomon’s palace as described in 1 Kings 7:1-6. The text uses the term “Slaoth”, which were mistakenly understood as pillars and can now be understood as triglyphs. The text also uses the term “Sequfim”, which was usually understood as nine windows in the palace, and can now be understood as triple recessed doorway.
Most of these injudicious claims of Garfunkel’s have been severely criticized as biblicist nonsense, even by biblicists! I Finkelstein and A Fantalkin have slated the interpretations and the amateurish methodology of the excavation. Thomas Verenna commented on this reporting of Garfinkel’s excesses:
“Will these finds settle the debate over the historical David? Garfinkel would like to think so. ‘Various suggestions that completely deny the biblical tradition regarding King David and argue that he was a mythological figure, or just a leader of a small tribe, are now shown to be wrong’.”MSNBC coverage on Qeiyafa
Really? Because you found a couple of regional house shrines in a fortified city? Because you have an ostracon with some writing on it? What hubris this is, when someone can so blatantly claim that certain scholars are wrong because you’ve found common ancient Near Eastern artifacts (which have been misidentified) at a dig in the Near East. if anything this only shows the lengths that certain individuals will go to try to prove their presuppositions. They are willing to fabricate whole cultural contexts that never existed so long as in the end they can say they’ve found the facts behind their biblical truth. It is both tragic and disgusting: tragic because most people will never question the validity of the article or the claims therein, and disgusting because it is permitted to happen.
Professor James D Tabor, professor and chair of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has inspected by robotic camera an apparently undisturbed first century tomb in Jerusalem. It contains limestone Jewish ossuaries, boxes into which the bones of the dead were placed after their flesh had decayed from them. Greek inscriptions and in some cases images suggested to Tabor that the tombs were Christian. Thus a four line Greek inscription on one ossuary speaks of God “raising up” someone, and a carved image on another ossuary could be a fish with a human stick figure in its mouth, an image evoking the biblical story of Jonah.
Sign of Jonah
The sign of Jonah, as mentioned by Jesus—according to Matthew and Luke but not Mark, the earliest gospel—is interpreted as his resurrection. Jonah images in later Christian art, such as images found in the Roman catacombs, are the most common motif found on tombs pesumed to be symbolizing the Christian resurrection hope. Jonah is not depicted in any first century Jewish art, and iconographic images on ossuaries are extremely rare, given the prohibition within Judaism of making images of people or animals.
This ossuary with the speculative Jonah image has other puzzling engravings, believed to be linked with resurrection. On one side is the tail of a fish disappearing off the edge of the box, as if it is diving into the water, although the lower half is not obscured by any symbolic water but merely because it is obscured by some other object in the tomb! There are more small similar “fish” images around its border on the front facing, and on the other side is the image of a cross like gate or entrance, which Tabor interprets as the notion of entering the “bars” of death, which are mentioned in the Jonah story in the Bible. Tabor remarked:
This Jonah ossuary is most fascinating. It seems to represent a pictorial story with the fish diving under the water on one end, the bars or gates of death, the bones inside, and the image of the great fish spitting out a man representing, based on the words of Jesus, the sign of Jonah—the sign that he would escape the bonds of death.
Among the approximately 2000 ossuaries that have been recovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority, only 650 have any inscriptions on them, and none have inscriptions comparable to those on ossuaries 5 and 6. Less than a dozen ossuaries from the period have epitaphs but, according to Tabor, these inscribed messages usually have to do with warnings not to disturb the bones of the dead. In contrast, though the epitaph’s full translation is uncertain, he concludes:
This inscription has something to do with resurrection of the dead, either of the deceased in the ossuary, or perhaps, given the Jonah image nearby, an expression of faith in Jesus’ resurrection.
The first three lines are clear, but the last line, consisting of three Greek letters, is not clear. It could be:
- O Divine Jehovah, raise up, raise up
- The Divine Jehovah raises up to the Holy Place
- The Divine Jehovah raises up from [the dead]
Beyond the possible Christian connection, Tabor noted that the tomb’s assemblage of ossuaries stands out as clearly extraordinary in the context of other previously explored tombs in Jerusalem:
Everything in this tomb seems unusual when contrasted with what one normally finds inscribed on ossuaries in Jewish tombs of this period. Of the seven ossuaries remaining in the tomb, four of them have unusual features.
There are engravings on five of the seven ossuaries inspected:
- an enigmatic symbol on ossuary 2, possibly stylized Greek or Hebrew letters reading Yod Heh Vav Heh or YHWH, though interpretation is speculative
- an inscription reading MARA in Greek letters on ossuary 3, which Tabor translates as the Aramaic feminine form of “Lord” or “Master”, in other words Lady or Mistress
- an indecipherable word in Greek letters on ossuary 4, possibly a name beginning with JO…
- a four line Greek inscription on ossuary 5
- a series of images on ossuary 6, including the large image of a fish with the stickman supposedly emerging from its mouth.
The tomb itself is dated before 70 AD, on the assumption that ossuary use in Jerusalem ceased then when Romans destroyed the city. Accordingly, if the markings are Christian, they are the earliest archaeological record of Christians ever found by several centuries. They must have been made by some of Jesus’s earliest followers, within decades of his death and predate the writing of the gospels. Tabor said:
If anyone had claimed to find either a statement about resurrection or a Jonah image in a Jewish tomb of this period, I would have said impossible, until now. Our team was in a kind of ecstatic disbelief, but the evidence was clearly before our eyes, causing us to revise our prior assumptions.
The discovery is published in The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find That Reveals the Birth of Christianity, which Tabor has co-authored with the sensationalist film maker for The Discovery Channel, and now somehow, professor of religion, Simcha Jacobovici, as Tabor’s gushing enthusiasm shows. Simcha Jacobovici has made several pseudo-historical pot-boiling books and films before, including the Jesus Family Tomb, but none of them pass muster. He has been compared with Dan Brown, author of the novel, The Da Vinci Code, the significant difference being that Brown claims only to be a novelist. That Jacobovici approves of the comparison must mean something, but Jacobovoci seems to have fooled people who should know better He is the “Naked Archaeologist”, a self publicist and opportunist, not a scholar.
Most proper scholars are skeptical of any Christian archaeological remains from so early a period. Moreover, this tomb is close to the tomb that Jacobovici sold to those willing to buy it as “The Jesus Family Tomb”. It too had in it inscribed ossuaries that had some of the names of Jesus’s associates or family, including one that reads “Jesus, son of Joseph”. These were common names at the time.
The tomb containing the new discoveries is a modest sized, carefully carved rock cut cave tomb typical of Jerusalem in the period from 20 BC until 70 AD. It was revealed in 1981 by builders, and is now several meters under the basement level of a modern condominium building in East Talpiot, a neighborhood of Jerusalem less than two miles south of the Old City. Archaeologists at the time were able to examine it and its ossuaries only briefly, to take preliminary photographs, and to remove one pot and an ossuary, before they were forced to leave by Orthodox religious groups who oppose excavation of Jewish tombs. Tabor points out:
Context is everything in archaeology. These two tombs, less than 200 feet apart, were part of an ancient estate, likely related to a rich family of the time. We chose to investigate this tomb because of its proximity to the so-called Jesus tomb, not knowing if it would yield anything unusual.
The ossuary taken, that of a child, is now in the Israel State Collection. It is decorated but has no inscriptions. The archaeologists mention two Greek names but did not notice either the newly discovered Greek inscription or the Jonah image before they had to leave. The tomb was re-sealed and buried beneath the condominium complex on what is now Don Gruner Street in East Talpiot.
The adjacent “Jesus tomb”, was uncovered by the same construction company in 1980, just one year earlier. It was thoroughly excavated and its contents removed by the Israel Antiquities Authority. This tomb’s controversial ossuaries with their cluster of names, seemingly gospel, are now part of the Israel State Collection and have been on display in various venues, including the Israel Museum.
In 2009 and 2010, Tabor and Rami Arav, professor of archaeology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, working together with Jacobovici, obtained a license to excavate the current tomb from the Israel Antiquities Authority under the academic sponsorship of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Because of its physical location under a modern building, making direct access nearly impossible, along with the threat of Orthodox Jewish groups that would protest any such excavation, Tabor’s team determined to employ a minimally invasive procedure in examining the tomb.
Jacobovici’s team at the Toronto based Associated Producers used a robotic arm with high definition cameras, donated by General Electric. The robotic arm and a second “snake” camera were inserted through two drill holes in the basement floor of the building above the tomb. The team reached the ossuaries and photographed them on all sides, revealing the inscriptions. The Discovery Channel/Vision Television/Associated Producers provided funding.
More Likely Interpretations
Needless to say, the speculation that these objects and their interpretation, even if it is correct, pertains to Christianity just a few decades after the supposed crucifixion is rejected by most rational scholars. Mark Goodacre blogs critically about these Discovery Channel sideshows. Another critical website is Tom Verenna’s. The possibility of such a connexion is more likely if the crucifixion was earlier, say around 21 AD, and it is even more likely if the allusions reflect the beliefs extant among Essenes. All this is discussed at the Askwhy! website.
A research abstract at PhysOrg.com tells us:
Researchers have long been fascinated by the secrets of Ramet Rahel, located on a hilltop above modern-day Jerusalem. The site of the only known palace dating back to the kingdom of Biblical Judah, digs have also revealed a luxurious ancient garden with an advanced irrigation system.
The rest of the review shows that this summary statement is wrong. The garden and palace are not from the time of the “biblical kingdom of Judah”, which ended with the Babylonian conquest in 586 BC, but from the Persian period which must have been at least fifty years later, and was more likely 200 years later in the fourth century BC.
The evidence is provided by the nature of the irrigation systems which were like those the Persians were noted for constructing, the exotic plants in the garden which came from Persia and further east, and C14 dating will have left little room for doubt. When it comes to the bible, there is no such thing as lying.
The truth is that the biblical kingdom of Judah is largely fictitious. Little of its scriptural history has ever been found confirmed in the ground, and much of what has, like the claim here, is false or misreported. The evidence as opposed to the myth suggests the kingdom of Judah existed just 150 years—from about 730 BC to 586 BC—as a rump of the previous kingdom of Israel, and a puppet of the Assyrians. It was left poor and uncolonized by the Babylonians, and was not resettled as soon as the Persians took control, as the myth makes out, but much later probably in response to a rebellion in the fifth century that required a Persian punitive expedition to Jerusalem. It is after this that the palace and garden described in this work flourished.
How Darius II founded Judaism is explained in detail at the main askwhy website.
Israeli archaeologist Ronny Reich of Haifa University has found near the Western Wall under Jerusalem’s Old City a rare clay seal that they say came from the Jewish Temple 2,000 years ago—between the first century BC and 70 AD—because it bears the inscription “pure for God”. The upper terminus is set by the closing of the temple by the Romans after the Jewish War.
This is the first such seal found dating from this period. Very many seals from apparently earlier periods are known, but regrettably so many of them are fakes, no one can be sure that any are genuine unless they have been found in situ. As it is, Reich, the co-director of the excavation opines that seal indicates temple ritual, signifying that Temple officials had approved some thing for temple use, like oil or a sacrificial beast. Offerings to God—for the benefit of the priests, in fact—had to be pure and perfect.
Curiously, though, the inscribed words are written in Aramaic and not Hebrew, as one might expect for ritual relics associated with the Jewish religion for which Hebrew was and still is the sacred language. The part of the Jewish Talmuds called the Mishna mentions the use of seals as tokens by diaspora pilgrims, who would have predominantly spoken Greek or Aramaic. However, it would have been the local people, Palestinian Jews, who gave animals, it being far more convenient for pilgrims from afar, maybe overseas, to give money. Presumably a priest was only capable of judging whether an animal was suitable for sacrifice, and logically they would have had seals inscribed in Hebrew. It suggests that Hebrew was only nominally the sacred language, Aramaic serving in practice.
Naughty boy British establishment Trotskyist turned celebrity American establishment neoconservative, and professional atheist, Christopher Hitchens died on 15 December 2011 of cancer of the œsophagus. A brilliant wordsmith and controversialist, Hitchens was a consistent anticommunist whose move to the US led to his abandonment of left wing communism in favour of open Bush/Cheney neoconservatism—a common path for Trotskyists in the USA—but he did seem to remain anti-Zionist throughout:
I am an anti-Zionist. I’m one of those people of Jewish descent who believes that Zionism would be a mistake even if there were no Palestinians.
One of the advantages of a Marxist and internationalist training is that it exposes one to the early writings of those Jewish cosmopolitans who warned from the first day that Zionism would be a false messiah for the Jews and an injustice to the Arabs. Nothing suggests to me that they were wrong on these crucial points.
And likening the United States leaders to the shabbos goy, the sabbath day gentile for the state of Israel:
The non-Jew who is paid a trifling fee to turn out the lights or turn on the stove, or whatever else is needful to get around the more annoying regulations [for Jews] of the Sabbath. How the old buzzard must cackle when he sees the gentiles actually volunteering a bribe to do the lowly work! And lowly it is, involving the tearing-up of international law and UN resolutions and election promises, and the further dispossession and eviction of a people to whom we gave our word…
Israeli archaeologists have uncovered ancient coins near the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City which challenge the assumption that all of the walls of the Second Temple were built by Herod, the Roman puppet king of Judah, in his long project to reconstruct the Jerusalem Temple. The Western Wall was the perimeter and retaining wall of the Jewish Temple destroyed by Jerusalem’s Roman conquerors in 70 AD. Also called the Wailing Wall, it is now a shrine for pious Jews. Ignorant people think it is part of Solomon’s temple, while others, largely on the basis of the bible, say it was built by king Herod, the gospel baby killer. Even archaeologists and scholars largely agreed that Herod had built the Temple and its retaining walls in an enormous project begun about 22 BC and completed by his death in 4 BC. Every Jerusalem tour guide has Herod as the answer to the question, “Who built this massive wall?”
In 2011, Israeli archaeologists reported they had found ancient coins buried under the foundations of the Western Wall minted 20 years after King Herod’s death in 4 BC. Eli Shukron, an archaeologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority who led the dig, with Professor Ronny Reich of Haifa University, explained:
Until today, accepted wisdom said that all the walls were built by Herod. When we found these coins which were dated about 20 years after Herod’s death, we understood that it couldn’t have been him who built this part of the wall.
No wall can be built without first laying down its foundations, so anything found beneath them must have been dropped or put there before the foundations were laid. In fact, these coins were not directly under the foundations of the wall, but in an underground ritual bath (mikveh) filled in to allow the foundation stones of the Western Wall to be laid across part of it. These coins were in the part not built on, but were beneath the infill, so were dropped or put there before the mikveh had been filled in so that the wall’s base could be constructed. The Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement:
This bit of archaeological information illustrates the fact that the construction of the Temple Mount walls and (the adjacent) Robinson’s Arch was an enormous project that lasted decades and was not completed during Herod’s lifetime.
According to Israel Antiquities Authority, of the several coins found, the latest of them were struck by the Roman Prefect of Judea, Valerius Gratus, in the year 17/18 AD. By that time, Tiberius was emperor, and Jerusalem had been ruled by Roman governors for a decade. As construction could not have started before then, the coins may back up Josephus’s story that the wall was finished by Agrippa II, Herod’s great grandson. Or the building of the wall might have been much later by Hadrian, who rebuilt Jerusalem and made it into a gentile city called Ælia Capitolina.
Josephus wrote that, when the work finally ended in 63 AD, 18,000 builders and masons were unemployed. To avoid trouble, Agrippa set them to paving the streets of Jerusalem. But it was only postponing the trouble, for soon the streets were paved, and again there was an army of tough men unemployed. According to Josephus, their agitation was important in bringing on the Jewish war against the Romans beginning in 66 AD, which led to the closure and partial demolition of the temple.
The mikveh and the coins were discovered metres from the Western Wall during controversial excavations of a 2,000 year old drainage channel which stretches from a site near the Western Wall and close to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam and known to Moslems as Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary. It then runs under the Old City walls to end in the Arab neighbourhood of Silwan. Jerusalem has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six Day War, so Palestinians consider excavations there as being an illegitimate and provocative desecration of a Moslem holy place.